The past two years have tested businesses all over the world, disrupted the way companies operate, and caused an acceleration towards digitization. Among the questions you ask yourself on how to survive the current environment is the looming question of how your company grows and defends against disruptive innovation in the coming years.
Despite the fast transition to online and digitized operations, the solution to future-proof your company is not necessarily embedded in the tech you'll use. According to a recent HBR article, "Reinventing Your Leadership Team," authors Paul Leinwand, Mahadeva Matt Mani, and Blair Sheppard recommend CEOs point a way forward by "advancing meaningful change" through a visionary C-suite.
Competing in the Current Market
Your best bet at winning despite current and future challenges has to do with two fundamental shifts:
1. Your ability as a CEO to envision a future for the company in an ever-uncertain world.
2. Establishing a leadership team built to realize that purpose.
When you establish an effective leadership team moved by a shared sense of purpose, you'll have the human assets required to realize your ambitious agenda and navigate the challenges of market disruptions, shifts in public mood, and economic fluctuations.
The suggested shift requires an organization to move differently—to look at a leadership team rather than a single leader. A survey of more than 500 senior executives at prominent firms brought this trend to light. The trend shows an almost impossible, self-contradictory pattern in identifying the roles leaders need to fulfill in today's environment.
It used to be acceptable for leaders to be either a great visionary or operator. But that is no longer the case. In business today, the leader must be more of a "strategic executor" that can draw from a vast well of diplomacy, technical know-how, innovation, humility (in victory and defeat), and a hyper-local globalist understanding of where scale matters.
The executives surveyed agreed on the importance and general inability of executives to cover all those roles adequately. That's why the future focus should not be on the individual leader but on establishing a leadership team where the strength of each member balances the missing pieces.
The other significant shift identified for companies that want to build a stronger future is to move from an "us vs. them" mentality to strategic partnerships within one's networks and ecosystems. A shift in this direction could provide unprecedented value to clients.
Four recommendations are provided for CEOs who want to build a team up to the challenge of meaningfully shaping an organization's future.
Establish a Visionary Leadership Team
1 – The Roles
It's time to revisit the company's purpose, or big "why," to ensure that everyone deeply understands the reason the company exists and where it expects to be in the future.
Identify the roles needed at the top to reimagine and deliver on the company's purpose. This may mean adding some nontraditional roles and eliminating some existing ones. Reorganizing roles is not just about titles but about deep expertise and capability, as these roles also signal your future priorities.
2 - The A-Team
Once you define what place you want the company to have in the world, you'll be better equipped to identify the roles and people needed to transform your company for the future.
To foster an environment that is fertile for the new ideas you strive for, talent and competence alone won't do it. Diversity at the executive level is crucial to challenge old patterns and views, as is an emphasis on people who think boldly but can work together harmoniously.
3 - Driving Transformation
Time is a scarce resource. Your leadership team must be thoughtful and deliberate in its agenda. Rather than the agenda being shaped by requests from below, leadership must keep an eye on driving transformation. This means thoughtfully managing two types of responsibilities: running usual business operations and building for the future.
Sometimes given resource constraints, leaders will "outsource" the task of planning to a committee or task force. While this is a great way to bring in many different perspectives from across the organization, this is not a set it and forget it proposition. The C-suite must still lead the charge in shaping the organization's future.
4 - Team Behavior
Do your executives focus on personal advancement or on moving the company forward?
It's not uncommon for there to be rivalry at the top. When your high performers engage in individualistic thinking over resources, achievements, and contributions, it distracts from the bigger picture.
Take ownership of the team's behavior, fostering trust, collaboration, and a commitment to leading the company forward rather than dwelling on personal advancement.
One antidote to this tendency is to create a shared purpose to help everyone remember the significant issues the team is trying to solve together. A way to engineer a collaborative environment is by asking leaders to work on problems in pairs. Working in this manner multiplies strengths, diversifies perspectives, and busts up individualistic thinking by distributing praise.
So what does all this mean to me?
Adapting to a changing world by envisioning a bolder, more ambitious future can be achieved through a team with the vision to see beyond the here and now. But it doesn't stop there. Whatever happens at the top becomes the model for the rest of the company.
While not explicitly mentioned in the article, at the core is a need to revisit your company's anchor points—the mission, vision, purpose, and values. When you do this, you might find that what you are communicating on paper doesn't match behavior. Or that your people don't really understand their role in the organization's larger purpose. Both can lead to apathy and erode opportunities for engagement and growth.
Future-proofing your company requires bold action around your purpose and goals, a team that can truly lead, and realigning the whole organization to move in that trajectory. That's the real competitive advantage.
And here I'll leave you with some of my favorite words by David Ogilvy, "Don't bunt. Aim out of the ballpark. Aim for the company of immortals."
I specialize in drawing out that special thing about your company so you can train, retain, recruit, and acquire. If you are looking toward a bolder future, I am prepared to bring the heat.